Tag Archive for: Nature Strip

Monday Musings: A Right Royal Week

We’ve just been through five days of the most wonderful racing – and, until Saturday, flawless weather – at Royal Ascot, but for many the experience was incomplete, writes Tony Stafford. For my part, I don’t think I managed to make a single phone call on my mobile on any of the four days I attended.

Others fared better but the internet, and especially punters attempting to put on bets via their devices, proved a generally difficult and frustrating process.

One friend not in attendance said: “It’s just the same at West Ham. As soon as you get to half-time 60,000 people take out their phones and it’s just impossible.”

But going to a Premier League football match is nothing like spending six hours watching the racing and fashion and arranging to meet up with friends. You might be able to suggest a point to gather, but when as on Saturday there is a crowd of more than 69,000 that’s not so easy. Surely it’s not beyond the wit, or the finances, of Ascot to improve communications.

I described my feelings as the week progressed – not improved on Saturday when my glasses disappeared while eating lunch – as being in solitary confinement.  Not that I ever have been!

The racing started with a bang with world best Baaeed in the Queen Anne, quickly followed by a performance full of promise from Bradsell and Hollie Doyle for Archie Watson in the Coventry, and it went on from there.

Quite by chance I had the ear of Chris Waller for a little while before racing started on Tuesday and, as well as appreciating his confidence in the chance of Nature Strip in the Group One King’s Stand Stakes, which he won as a champion should, I also got some interesting stuff on the post-racing life of his great mare Winx.

Owners of many outstanding racemares have found that life in the breeding shed has not been as straight-forward as they might have hoped. Winx has had her setbacks, losing one foal, following which she had a tough time according to Waller.

If I understood him correctly, he believes extreme activity on the racecourse often inhibits the development of the reproductive systems making such mares immature in that regard. Winx deserves to get a foal or two to pass on her magical ability.

Then there was the narrow success of Coroebus in the St James’s Palace Stakes, William Buick bringing him with one of many well-timed challenges during the week.

Buick competed toe to toe throughout with Ryan Moore just as Godolphin did with Coolmore and while it was honours even in terms of good rides and victories for the two major powers, Ryan had the edge numerically. His riding this season is as good as it ever was.

Over recent seasons we had become accustomed to Ryan vainly trying to make up ground in the latter stages of Royal Ascot races after Frankie Dettori had made the first move. This year he seemed much more intent on riding closer to the front.

Once the field gets round the home turn at Ascot there is not much more than two furlongs for a rider to develop a winning run and, with crowding often to be expected, jockeying for position is more important there than on many tracks.

I did think Ryan’s riding of Kyprios in the Gold Cup was a masterpiece. It’s one thing making sure you keep your main rival boxed in when you can. At least twice as Dettori searched for a gap to start his move on Stradivarius, Moore, level and on his outside, kept the door shut.

But when Frankie’s race as far as winning was run, Moore still had saved enough on Kyprios for the Coolmore/O’Brien horse to deal with the dangerous challenge of Mojo Star around the outside. Last year’s Derby and St Leger runner-up, resuming for the Richard Hannon team after a long break, loomed up in the Amo Racing colours, looking sure to prevail.

Sadly for Amo boss Kia Joorabchian – in the paddock on Saturday with a football-oriented entourage that included Rio Ferdinand – none of his 16 runners at the meeting could win. This fastest-growing team in racing will win some big ones, that’s inevitable. How long, though, the emotional Kia can balance expectation with the inevitable disappointments that racing at this sort of level brings, is the interesting question.

Amo Racing’s support was a major factor in George Boughey’s rapid advance in the first couple of years of his career so it came as quite a shock for me to discover that of the 82 horses to have run from his Hamilton Road stable in Newmarket this year, only three have been in Amo Racing ownership.

Already successful at Classic level with Cachet in the 1,000 Guineas this year, Boughey now has two Royal Ascot wins to his name. Inver Park won Thursday’s concluding handicap, but a much more impressive winner showed the trainer’s sure touch on Saturday.

The Golden Gates Handicap, a three-year-old contest over ten furlongs, is a recent addition as Ascot went to a full five days of seven-race cards. Boughey’s Missed The Cut could not have been a more convincing winner.

I have mentioned before how significant it was for the UK racing and breeding industry that so many potentially high-class horses from the Shadwell stable were made available because of the economies needed after the death of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoun.

Missed The Cut, a son of the top US sire Quality Road, never raced as a juvenile and went to the February sale at Newmarket where he was snapped up by former jockey, Ed Babington. A successful businessman in garden furniture, he is also developing his racing interests, having involvement in the Roger Varian stable as well as with Boughey.

Missed The Cut cost 40k, which might not have looked a bargain when he first set foot on the track running fourth at the Craven meeting. But easy wins by eleven and then five lengths in two novice contests brought an opening mark of 95. He was heavily backed, as many of Boughey’s horses are – down to 5-2 on Saturday - and defeat never looked a possibility.

He stormed to the front two furlongs out and stretched the margin to almost five lengths, He’s already at least Listed class as we’ll see tomorrow when the new ratings appear. I reckon he’s a Group horse and maybe a top-level one.

Dettori did get some joy from the returning win of one-time 1,000 Guineas favourite Inspiral in the Coronation Stakes, but most people found his public “calling out” over the Stradivarius ride by joint-trainer John Gosden left a sour taste. You would think the number of winners the prince of racing has ridden for the stable, many at the top level, would have deserved a little more understanding in the face of one less than perfect ride on a horse for whom he has so much affection.

Nobody will ever worry in the fulness of time that Stradivarius, already a three-time Gold Cup winner, did not make it four. It was a shame for owner Bjorn Neilsen and no doubt Gosden senior would have liked another Gold Cup to his name, but that’s racing and for once Ryan rode the socks off Frankie.

Gosden was much more positive about the winning ride on Nashwa – like Inspiral a daughter of Frankel – in yesterday’s Prix De Diane at Chantilly. The Oaks third took the quick turn-around well when winning nicely under Hollie Doyle, who thus became the first female jockey to win a major European Classic.

I must say I have been dismayed all year once it became known of the departure of Tony Nerses from his role as the long-time manager of Nashwa’s owner. Initially for Saleh Al Homaizi, then for the partnership between Saleh and Imad Al Sagar, to Imad’s outright ownership when Al Homaizi bowed out a few years ago

I always believed Tony had a big input in the suggestion that Hollie might become the retained jockey for the team. Now we learn it was Mr Gosden’s idea all along. Just as it was when William Buick first went to the US, no doubt!

- TS

Waller overcome with emotion following King’s Stand demolition

On English turf at a quintessentially English event, the discussions surrounding the King’s Stand Stakes on the opening day of Royal Ascot required you to pick a side – the American horse or the Australian horse.

Golden Pal had this season looked better than his already superb best and was therefore the leading light of trainer Wesley Ward’s annual Berkshire pilgrimage from Keeneland.

The Australian contender was Chris Waller’s Nature Strip, an eight-year-old raiding European coffers having found little fit to trouble him in 37 previous starts in his native country, 20 of which he had won.

Nature Strip and James McDonald
Nature Strip and James McDonald (David Davies/PA)

The journey to Ascot on Tuesday morning may have been from the chestnut’s stopover spot at Charlie Hills’ stable in Lambourn rather than his own box in Rosehill, but the voyage began nearly two weeks ago with a meticulously-planned crossing from one hemisphere to another.

The passage of over 10,000 miles led to the briefest bout on the track, a bare-minimum five furlongs on good to firm ground that flashed by as Nature Strip’s white-bridled head was the first thing visible over the crest of Ascot’s gently rising home straight.

Tailed only by the loose Khaadem, who had relieved Jamie Spencer of his riding duties in the stalls and gone solo, Waller’s gelding had not a single rival in his shadow when he passed the post four and a half lengths ahead of Twilight Calls to triumph at 9-4 under James McDonald.

Golden Pal, by contrast, was utterly luckless from the stalls to the line with the 15-8 favourite failing to land a single blow in cantering home detached and last of all.

Nature Strip with James McDonald before the big race
Nature Strip with James McDonald before the big race (PA)

The victor was welcomed into the winner’s enclosure with a wave of noise, the lilt of Australasian accents following him as he made his way to the final destination of a mammoth voyage – the small circular sign that reads ‘1st place’.

The mercurial forces behind Britain’s weather could hardly have offered the international guests a better slice of an English summertime and the horse gleamed in the June sunshine, imposing and orange and patient as photographers shimmied under the rope barriers to get a picture worthy of his performance.

Waller, closed in on every side by press both national and international, basked in the glory of the victory and the reception of the Ascot revellers.

Nature Strip on his way to success
Nature Strip on his way to success (David Davies/PA)

“It’s just an honour to be able to bring a horse here, we have been treated so well, like royalty in fact,” he said.

“The horse has been too. We’re in awe of European racing and to be able to bring a horse here finally, after covid, to showcase a horse in such a brilliant race, it is important. It’s been a privilege to be part of his career.”

During his sojourn with Hills Nature Strip briefly became an adopted son of Lambourn, and when pockets of the crowd hollered Aussie chants as their favourite made his way steadily to the start and swiftly back in the same direction, one got the feeling the home team had abandoned their own.

Waller said: “We could see that they were treating us with open arms, the locals around Lambourn were saying ‘come on, you’ve got this!’.

“We were just trying to keep things calm, the overall thing I’ve noticed is the way that people have welcomed us, post-covid, not just the horse but the people and the jockeys. There are so many rivalries between different countries on a racetrack, it’s magical.”

A New Zealander has no need for a stiff upper lip, and while the self-effacing manner of an Englishman was present, raw emotion rose to the surface as the trainer’s voice fell away into tears when he said: “I didn’t dare dream about it, it’s very special.

“I get emotional when horses win but to win here, I won’t say it’s second to nothing, but in terms of winning horse races it’s just a dream.

“For a trainer, a strapper, a jockey. For the punters, when they follow horses and they win like he did there, it’s special.

“It’s a great story. That’s what racing is, it brings a lot of countries, religions, races, gender, everybody together.

“They love the horses and it can bring everyone together. It’s been very special.

“Back home, the ones that couldn’t make it, I think they’ll be pretty proud of him.”

Baaeed and Nature Strip light up opening afternoon at Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot thrives on international competition. So it was hard to believe it had been 10 years since the great Australian mare Black Caviar graced British shores. The way her compatriot Nature Strip lit up day one in the King’s Stand Stakes will surely open the floodgates for more challengers in the coming years.

On a thrilling first afternoon – where crowds returned to the showpiece fixture in their thousands following the pandemic – Baaeed started the meeting in style with a straightforward win in the Queen Anne Stakes, while Coroebus followed up his 2000 Guineas triumph in a blanket finish to the St James’s Palace Stakes. The pair could now meet in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

All that somewhat overshadowed another Royal Ascot victory for Hollie Doyle on Bradsell – but you get the feeling there will be plenty more of those to come.

There might be for young Callum Hutchinson, too, as the apprentice rider enjoyed a moment he will never forget in guiding Coltrane to a narrow success over favourite Bring On The Night and Ryan Moore in the Ascot Stakes.

Picture of the day

Coroebus clings on from Lusail, My Prospero, Maljoom and Mighty Ulysses in the St James's Palace Stakes. Baaeed next?
Coroebus clings on from Lusail, My Prospero, Maljoom and Mighty Ulysses in the St James’s Palace Stakes. Baaeed next? (David Davies/PA)

Picture of the day II

Callum Hutchinson (second left) in the Ascot Stakes
What a moment for Callum Hutchinson (second left) in the Ascot Stakes (David Davies/PA)

Performance of the day

Nature Strip's only danger was a loose horse in the closing stages of the King's Stand
Nature Strip’s only danger was a loose horse in the closing stages of the King’s Stand (Adam Davy/PA)

Quote of the day

What’s next?

Wednesday’s highlight is without question the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. Fresh from Derby glory, Sir Michael Stoute fields the favourite in the progressive Bay Bridge. It is far from a walkover, however. Japanese challenger Shahryar, Lord North and the globetrotting State Of Rest, plus the French mare Grand Glory, all hold chances.

There is also a stellar renewal of the Queen Mary in store with 12 fillies defending unbeaten records.

Nature Strip blitzes King’s Stand Stakes rivals

Australian raider Nature Strip ran out an emphatic winner of the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.

A multiple Group One winner in his homeland for Chris Waller, best known as the trainer of the great racemare Winx, Nature Strip was the 9-4 second-favourite for a much-anticipated international clash with Wesley Ward’s American challenger and dual Breeders’ Cup winner Golden Pal.

The writing was on the wall for supporters of the latter soon after the gates opened, however, with the usually rapid starter completely missing the break, from which point it was all about the Australian runner.

After initially taking a lead, Nature Strip – with the loose Khaadem for company – moved to the front two furlongs from home still full of running and found another gear once popped the question by James McDonald.

The rest of the field were simply left trailing in his wake as the seven-year-old engaged overdrive and passed the post with four and a half lengths in hand over Twilight Calls, with 200-1 shot Acklam Express and Mooneista close up in third and fourth respectively.

Waller was recording his first Royal Ascot winner after coming close with Diamond (now Platinum) Jubilee runner-up Brazen Beau in 2015.

He said: “It means a lot. We don’t get the chance to race against the English, the Irish and even Americans today an awful lot.

“It’s pretty special to bring a horse all this way and compete against the best in the world and to win the way he did.

“It was breathtaking, it was a good display and he’s a very good horse. He has been for a long time.

“I guess he’s in the twilight of his career, but he’s learned to be a racehorse now as he was tricky early on. It’s an honour to train him.

“Going international is very important to showcase our breed in Australia and of course he’s one of the highest-rated horses in the world and it’s stacked up.

“We’ll see how he is after this and we’ll make a decision later in the week on whether he runs in the Platinum Jubilee (on Saturday).

“This is definitely in the top five wins I’ve ever had.”

Twilight Calls goes to post for the King's Stand
Twilight Calls goes to post for the King’s Stand (David Davies/PA)

Connections of the placed horses were understandably thrilled with their efforts.

Henry Candy said of Twilight Calls: “It was a great run, wasn’t it? I’m absolutely delighted. What can you say about the winner. How many races has he won, how many million has he won – he is just a freak.

“I thought he ran a cracker. Ryan (Moore) said it was a messy start and he lost a length or so. That didn’t help – he would have been a better second that’s all. It would not have made the slightest difference. I would imagine he will go to York – somewhere where they go very quick. He loves this ground. A gorgeous horse isn’t he?”

Nigel Tinkler added of Acklam Express: “Fantastic. The winner is very very good. We thought we would finish in the first half, but we didn’t expect to finish as close as that. We’re absolutely delighted.

“He is just a lovely, lovely horse. York and obviously Goodwood are on the agenda. He shows he is very, very quick. We expected him to come from behind and run well, and he was ridden to win and that made him run better, if that makes sense.

“Probably we would have like to have been a bit further back early, but he really travelled. The winner is obviously very, very good.

“All the owners are very happy – they backed him to finish in the first half at 40-1.

“He has been to Dubai before, and the Breeders’ Cup will be high on the agenda. We went with Ubettabelieveit and we can’t wait to go back there.”

Waller delighted with star sprinters ahead of next week

Platinum Jubilee Stakes favourite Home Affairs and his fellow Australian raider Nature Strip had their first taste of Ascot with a racecourse spin on Friday morning.

Both are trained by Chris Waller, who counts the great Winx and last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant among his most famous alumni, and he was on hand to watch the duo go through their paces.

Home Affairs has two Group One wins to his name while the seven-year-old Nature Strip, who is due to tackle the King’s Stand Stakes, has eight wins at the highest level during an illustrious career.

Waller reports the duo to have taken the trip to Britain in their stride and settled in well their temporary Lambourn home.

The handler said: “It was pretty much a perfect trip – they had two stopovers, one in Singapore and one in Dubai.

“Collectively they drank 120 litres of water on the flight and I think that’s the key for anyone travelling, just making sure they’re well hydrated.

“They put on a couple of kilos on the flight but now they’re back to their normal weights, so they needed to do a little bit of work this morning.

“Today was their first piece of fast work for two weeks, they just needed a little bit of stimulation and I was pretty happy with what they did.”

Nature Strip at Ascot on Friday
Nature Strip at Ascot on Friday (PA)

A handful of international raiders have based themselves in Newmarket while American handler Wesley Ward has taken his team to Chelmsford racecourse in the build up to next week’s Royal meeting.

Waller was full of praise for the facilities in Lambourn, a racing centre more celebrated for its jumps inhabitants, as well as his European training colleagues.

He said: “It’s been great, a lovely relaxed environment. It’s amazing, the facilities over here, it’s awesome – the horses just enjoy themselves and are very relaxed.

“Like a lot of training centres around the world, we train in the city and everything is a rush. There’s a lot of horses in a small area, but not here, it’s all about the horse and it’s no wonder the English, Irish and French turn up so many good winners.

“You train to your own environment, we know what works in Australia. I have the utmost respect for how hard it must be to train a horse here.

“In particular they’ve got to have their horses right for six months of the year, we have 12 months to get things right. If you miss a carnival, you’ve got another one two or three months later – but there’s only one Royal Ascot.

“The way the English and Irish trainers, and the French as well, the way they prepare them for their races is quite unique. We have prep runs, we don’t get them ready for a 2000 metre race first time.”

Brazen Beau came close to Ascot success in 2015
Brazen Beau came close to Ascot success in 2015 (David Davies/PA)

While Winx never made the trip to Ascot that so many fans hoped for, Waller is not a total stranger to Royal Ascot having sent Brazen Beau to race in 2015.

The son of I Am Invincible came close to victory in the then Diamond Jubilee Stakes, finding only the Ward-trained Undrafted half a length too good.

Asked what he learnt from his experience with Brazen Beau, Waller said: “That it would be achievable to win a race here one day.

“He ran very well and he was a good Australian sprinter, a young horse with a similar profile to Home Affairs. You’ve got to have a horse with a good temperament, they’ve got to be quick, they’ve got to be able to cope with good tracks or perhaps a bit of rain on the day as well.

“We almost pulled it off, so not much has changed really, we almost got it right and we’ll try to get it right this time.”

Sprinting big guns all set for King’s Stand showdown

This year’s King’s Stand Stakes looks a real cosmopolitan affair with American Golden Pal and Nature Strip from Australia heading 20 confirmations for the Group One showpiece.

Golden Pal is no stranger to European racegoers having run at Royal Ascot once before and in the Nunthorpe last summer.

Nature Strip, on the other hand, will be having his first outing in Europe having been among the leading sprinters in Australia for a number of years.

There is even interest from the Czech Republic in the shape of Ponntos, a winner for Frankie Dettori in France last time out.

The winner of the Nunthorpe was Tim Easterby’s Winter Power but she has something prove at present having disappointed since her big win at York.

Andrew Balding’s King’s Lynn would be a popular winner as he is owned by the Queen.

King’s Lynn holds on to win the Temple Stakes
King’s Lynn (right) holds on to win the Temple Stakes (Richard Sellers/PA)

It is not beyond the realms of possibility, either, as he won the Temple Stakes at Haydock last time out, beating Twilight Calls and the two could meet again.

Charlie Appleby’s Lazuli and Man Of Promise were winners out in Dubai and need to transfer that form to Europe, while Charlie Hills’ Equilateral will be having his first run for over a year should he take his chance.